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Retail businesses urged to improve accessibility for disabled shoppers as lockdown looms

Gaelle Walker
03 November 2020

As England braces for its second national lockdown later this week, disability organisation Purple is urging retail businesses to make simple changes to better meet the needs of disabled people, who it says were heavily disadvantaged during the first summer lockdown.

The call for businesses to improve disabled people’s access to their products and services comes on the day of the annual Purple Tuesday campaign today (3 November).

More than 2,000 businesses have already signed up in support of the 2020 campaign, by making one or more new commitments to improve the customer experience for disabled shoppers.

Commitments range from customer service training, encouraging staff to learn hello and goodbye in British Sign Language, formalising quiet shopping hours, conducting site access audits and online accessibility audits.

The annual Purple Tuesday campaign comes as new research by Purple reveals that the first national lockdown “turned back the clock for disabled customers”, many of whom were forced to rely on “inaccessible websites and apps to purchase basic essentials and access goods and services.”

Specific challenges highlighted by disabled people for Purple Tuesday 2020 include:

Mobile accessibility – where consumers cannot complete purchases because the website or online form are not mobile-friendly.

Product information – where insufficient information is provided as to whether a product or service can meet the needs of a disabled person.

Product availability – some disabled people say that they can’t access products that meet their needs online.

Missed deliveries – which often force disabled people to collect parcels from postal depots that are inaccessible for those who can’t drive.

The poll of disabled people also highlighted barriers facing disabled people offline, including the removal of disabled parking bays in order to make space for socially distanced queues. 

Businesses which improved their current strategies towards disabled shoppers could earn a bigger slice of the £274bn Purple Pound – the consumer spending power of disabled people and their families, Purple said.

Purple Tuesday founder Mike Adams said: “National and regional lockdowns have shone a very bright light on the approach of organisations to their disabled customers.  

“At one end of the spectrum there is a sense of bunkering down, neglect and grouping all disabled customers as vulnerable, making them feel helpless and not valued. 

“Other businesses have seen their proactive approach as a symbol of their brand, a socially aware organisation that is connecting or reconnecting with their customers.

“With 22% of the population being disabled, meeting their customer needs is a huge economic and social opportunity for businesses.

Purple Tuesday this year is about making do and mend and getting organisations to adopt, adapt and implement practice that has previously worked for others across all sectors and of all sizes to support the economic recovery.”

Minister for disabled people, health and work, Justin Tomlinson, said: “In the month that we mark the 25-year anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act, Purple Tuesday is a timely reminder for businesses to put inclusivity at the heart of everything they do.

“We know this has been a challenging time for our high streets and businesses - the government has rightly stepped up to support those most in need. It’s more important than ever to unlock the spending power of disabled people and I would urge businesses to do just that and reap the rewards.”

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